The Doctrine and Covenants: The Voice of the Lord


Neal A. Maxwell

If asked which book of scripture provides the most frequent chance to “listen” to the Lord talking, most individuals would at first think of the New Testament. The New Testament is a marvelous collection of the deeds and many of the doctrines of the Messiah. But in the Doctrine and Covenants we receive the voice as well as the word of the Lord. We can almost “hear” him talking. Words like these sink into one’s marrow as well as into one’s mind, for the majesty and power of the Lord are so evident:

“Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made.” (D&C 38:1)

These are enunciatory truths about the coidentity of Jesus and Jehovah, “the Great I Am.” The same words, when Jesus spoke them in the meridian of time, brought forth stones. (See John 8:58–59.) The Savior’s premortal role is also declared here, a magnificent role noted in his high priestly prayer centuries before. (See John 17:5.)

“The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.” (D&C 38:2) Not only is Jesus’ omniscience asserted, but the reason for his foreknowledge is given: he is not bound by time, and thus “all things are present” before him each moment!

“I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me.

“I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom; and verily, I say, even as many as have believed in my name, for I am Christ, and in mine own name, by the virtue of the blood which I have spilt, have I pleaded before the Father for them.” (D&C 38:3–4)

Christ declares and describes his role as Creator of the entire world, and yet cites his saving of a special city!

From the opening lines of the Doctrine and Covenants we see a concerned though omnipotent God, Jesus Christ, speaking unto “all men”:

“Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.” (D&C 1:1)

The Lord goes on to declare that there are “none to escape” the “voice of warning … unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.” (D&C 1:2, 4)

In the last hearken we see a still pleading Lord who concludes with:

“Now, therefore, hearken, O ye people of my church; and ye elders listen together; you have received my kingdom.

“Be diligent in keeping all my commandments, lest judgments come upon you, and your faith fail you, and your enemies triumph over you. So no more at present. Amen and Amen.” (D&C 136:41–42)

The blend of soberness and sweetness is on every page as the Lord prepares a people, builds a kingdom, and declares the kingdom delivered.

“The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.

“Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?

“Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.” (D&C 88:45–47)

Yet we also see this omniscient Lord tenderly tutoring Oliver Cowdery in the “ABCs” of revelation. (See D&C 9.) And the words given to Oliver Cowdery on how to receive revelation were framed in such a way that a seminary student one hundred and fifty years later could ponder them and receive the same requisite guidance for himself. Each revelation given is both timely and timeless.

We hear Jesus of Nazareth, who suffered so exquisitely—beyond our capacity to comprehend—comforting a suffering Joseph Smith:

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” (D&C 121:7)

“If the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7)

How can we help but see Jesus Christ not only as our omnipotent Lord but also as our Eternal Friend—a Friend who levels with us about what lies ahead. We receive not only a grand and near transporting vision of the three degrees of glory, but also a preview of the terror in the winding-up scenes prior to his second coming—including scourges during which eyes will fall “from their sockets.” (D&C 29:19)

The Lord reminds those with checklists that he has made precise prophecies before: “Behold, I tell you these things, even as I also told the people of the destruction of Jerusalem; and my word shall be verified at this time as it hath hitherto been verified.” (D&C 5:20)

We not only see the Savior surveying the galaxies, but we see him looking into Sidney Rigdon’s heart and laying bare some of his personal challenges: “And now behold, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, am not pleased with my servant Sidney Rigdon; he exalted himself in his heart, and received not counsel, but grieved the Spirit.” (D&C 63:55)

Thus, in many ways the Doctrine and Covenants is the modern equivalent of the thundering directness of Sinai, when the finger of the Lord wrote on the two tablets of stone. (Ex. 31:18)—portions of the Doctrine and Covenants with the “thou shalt nots” (D&C 42) and the “Alpha and Omegas” are given by the voice of the Lord.

Indeed, the repeated interlacing of truths in the Doctrine and Covenants with those of other books of scripture shows a precision too great to have been managed by something as clumsy as a computer. Only divine direction could achieve this grand consistency.

In the episode involving the lost manuscript from the Book of Mormon, we see the interplay of the foreknowledge of God and the agency of man (with our freedom to fail) and the perfect foresight of a loving Lord who 1,500 years before the “emergency” was ready with an alternative. (See D&C 10 and W of M 1)

We see a Savior who is as all-caring as he is all-knowing, for he supports his own. Such a picture contrasts sharply with Alma’s description of Lucifer: “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.” (Alma 30:60; italics added)

The Savior always supports his prophets even though martyrdom be required of them, just as he supported John the Baptist, saying there was not anyone greater born of women. (Matt. 11:11) Likewise, in this the latter dispensation the Lord inspired an evaluative description of Joseph Smith as having done more for the salvation of mankind than anyone “save Jesus only.” (D&C 135:3)

The Being whose historicity some have wrongly questioned is so quick to certify the historicity of his prophets like Job and Isaiah. (See D&C 121:10, D&C 76:100, and D&C 113.) The Savior even cites the suffering of Job as a high standard to spur on a suffering Joseph Smith.

The same Savior who stopped by a well and conversed with a woman centuries ago in the Holy Land and who tenderly corrected Martha’s perspective warmly encouraged Emma in her hymnbook project:

“And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.

“And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.” (D&C 25:10–11)

We see the Lord preparing his prophet, Joseph Smith, in one jail, Liberty, for what would happen so grimly in another jail, Carthage.

While the Lord supported his servant Joseph Smith, whom he loved, he did not spare him: “And now I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent and walk more uprightly before me, and to yield to the persuasions of men no more.” (D&C 5:21)

Just as the Lord alerted his early disciples to their impending martyrdoms, so he promised the Prophet Joseph Smith, fifteen years before his martyrdom, that if the Prophet would be firm in keeping the commandments, he would be given eternal life, “even if you should be slain.” (D&C 5:22)

In the several highly personal revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, we can see the divine tutorial process at work:

“Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;

“Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.

“I tell thee these things as a witness unto thee—that the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true.” (D&C 6:15–17)

This is the same individualizing which is apparent in the Lord’s response to John the Beloved’s request to tarry (see D&C 7), and in his response “one by one” to the Nephite disciples on the western hemisphere. (See 3 Ne. 28:1–10.)

The Doctrine and Covenants gives us so many immense truths which cannot be fully appreciated unless read carefully—and scarcely then. We are, for instance, treated to what must be one of the first laws of the universe—that we receive our blessings on the basis of obedience to law. (See D&C 130:20–21.) How many humans are really ready for that stunning truth about the ecology of eternal things?

We see a Lord wanting a humble but not overly dependent people. He encouraged members of Zion’s Camp to make their own decision about methods or routes of travel, because so far as the Lord was concerned in that circumstance, “it mattereth not unto me.” (D&C 61:22)

Where there are but three surviving verses concerning the three degrees of glory in the epistles of Paul (see 1 Cor. 15:40–42), in the Doctrine and Covenants three dozen verses of overwhelming significance in just one section address that topic! (See D&C 76.)

The same Jesus who was silent in the presence of Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) defines truth in the Doctrine and Covenants. (See D&C 93:24.) What he would not say to a prestigious Pilate in A.D. 33, he told an obscure Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio, in A.D. 1833.

We see brief flashes of the range of the Lord’s interests: a revelation concerning the care of man’s physical constitution, which we call the Word of Wisdom (see D&C 89), but also the Lord’s deep concern with the United States Constitution as the grand and great document of government, the key principles of which belong to all mankind. (See D&C 98 and D&C 101.)

We see only the tips of other truths, such as the one revealing that the Church, the army of the Lord, will become “very great,” in a day when others will acknowledge whose the Church is and will even ask to live under Zion’s laws. (See D&C 105:31, 32.) The Lord permitted his prophet, John Taylor, to elaborate on this last verse in 1879:

“Those who will not take up their sword to fight against their neighbor must needs flee to Zion for safety. And they will come, saying, we do not know anything of the principles of your religion, but we perceive that you are an honest community; you administer justice and righteousness, and we want to live with you and receive the protection of your laws, but as for your religion we will talk about that some other time. Will we protect such people? Yes, all honorable men. When the people shall have torn to shreds the Constitution of the United States, the Elders of Israel will be found holding it up to the nations of the earth and proclaiming liberty and equal rights to all men, and extending the hand of fellowship to the oppressed of all nations. This is part of the programme, and as long as we do what is right and fear God he will help us and stand by us under all circumstances.” (Deseret News Weekly, 28 Jan. 1880, 28:818; see also D&C 45:68–69.)

How much is below the surface of still other scriptures in that revelatory book can be gauged by this one example!

One cannot read without awe the several references to Enoch and his city and the indicated parallels between that earlier people and Lord’s people in the last days—such as the forecast that some will say of modern Zion, “Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.” (D&C 45:70) These words are among many dramatic prophecies, the full measure of which we are not now prepared to take.

How marvelously tender to have Christ, who hung from the cross by weary, bleeding arms, say to us about our duty to others who falter: “Lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (D&C 81:5)

We see Perfection portrayed in the pages of the Doctrine and Covenants—but it is an entreating and pleading Perfection. On some occasions it is a commanding Perfection: “For I, the Almighty, have laid my hands upon the nations, to scourge them for their wickedness.” (D&C 84:96) At other times it is a commending Perfection: the same Jesus who centuries ago praised the centurion for his great faith (see Luke 7:6–10), now says of Hyrum Smith, “I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart.” (D&C 124:15)

The Savior’s standards illuminate all pages. One of the Ten Commandments in its original form said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Ex. 20:14) Incorporated within the Doctrine and Covenants, fittingly, is the added warning against mental adultery which Jesus first gave in his earthly ministry in the Holy Land: “And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.” (D&C 42:23)

There are needed caveats about the greedy poor and precious promises to those who know poverty but remain pure:

“Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!

“But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.” (D&C 56:17–18)

Alongside the many warnings from a loving Lord come words of divine commendation to Edward Partridge (in D&C 41), in which the Lord likens him to Nathaniel of old. Yet we see hope for us in our frailties, for after this high praise, the Lord gave Bishop Partridge a precise warning: “In this thing my servant Edward Partridge is not justified; nevertheless let him repent and he shall be forgiven.” (D&C 50:39)

One cannot read Section 45 [D&C 45], with its elaborations upon Matthew 24 [Matt. 24], and not appreciate the desire of the Lord that his disciples be informed concerning the events—both wonderful and terrible—which lie ahead.

There is the direct and glorious manifestation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the temple at Kirtland on 3 April 1836:

“The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.

“We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.

“His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:

“I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.” (D&C 110:1–4)

Indeed, to ponder the pages of the Doctrine and Covenants is to know that Joseph and Sidney spoke the truth when they wrote, “This is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!” (D&C 76:22)

The prayerful reader of this disclosing, divine volume of scripture will enlarge his testimony and draw even closer to the Savior than he has ever been before! As when contemplating the heavens we see God “moving in his majesty and power” (D&C 88:47), so in savoring these scriptures we hear God teaching, pleading, correcting, and informing us—“in his majesty and power.”